Postcards From The Pandemic: Instrument Repairs Keep Musician Working

J.C. Sherman in his shop repairing a French horn.
J.C. Sherman has been repairing antique instruments for 23 years. [Tyler Ferris]
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While many concerts and gigs were canceled this year, musicians still need working instruments. And repair work is keeping J.C. Sherman in business.

“As I work principally with antiques and specialized professional instruments and customizations, I was more insulated, I think, than some from COVID-19,” Sherman said.


Postcards From the Pandemic

When COVID-19 hit, I found myself in a unique position.

Certainly as a performer, it was neutering in a sense, because, you know, one of the great propelling commitments I have is to be a performer, and that evaporated instantly. But I was lucky as a repair tech that I have a specialized business.

J.C. Sherman testing a horn.

Sherman tests a natural horn in his repair workshop. [Tyler Ferris]

I have about a two to two-and-a-half year backlog of projects which this has allowed me to focus on and do a little bit of catch up on. 

So a lot of musical repair businesses rely on school accounts and whatnot, and while I do some of that, and that evaporated, luckily I have enough work to do for now to keep me employed close to the level I was used to.

Buffing and polishing a horn.

For some artists, the restrictions on musical performances means instruments are not wearing out as easily, Sherman said, while others "have taken the opportunity, since they’re not playing, to get their instruments fixed. But that’s a very short-lived amount of work." [Tyler Ferris]

And certainly as a teacher, private lessons have continued, although to a diminished degree. A lot of people don’t find it attractive to take lessons remotely, but I think we’ve become pretty good at it, many of us.

I work at the band at Shaker [Heights High School], and they have shown a commitment to me that they are bringing me back.

But they are still working diligently to figure out how to engineer my participation, how to engineer band when, you know, 400 kids can’t meet during one period and five bands and have to spread it throughout the day. So we’re still working on exactly how that band program will function.

A newly redesigned trombone

Redesigned trombone in Sherman's workshop. [Tyler Ferris]

As private teaching goes, CSU (Cleveland State University) closed quickly, and CIM (Cleveland Institute of Music), where I’m also on the preparatory faculty, that also shut down. So I had a steep learning curve to learn how to use Zoom, and to engineer my office so that it had decent sound, a decent microphone, and to make the experience as useful to everybody.

I think the best thing we can do is, whatever experiences we do provide, that we make it as rewarding as possible and remind them that this is not forever, and at a certain point they’ll come out of this as better musicians, ready to perform at a caliber that they weren’t familiar with when this started.

This audio postcard was produced by Ethan Sands.

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